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Sept. 17 — Unless there is an emergency, the police can't enter a home to execute the functional equivalent of a Terry stop, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled Sept. 16.
An officer in this case handcuffed Elvan Moore and put him in a squad car when Moore refused to identify himself after the officer came to the door and began asking Moore about a reported disturbance in the apartment complex parking lot.
In an opinion by Judge Robin S. Rosenbaum, the court said it makes “no sense” to block police from entering homes to execute arrests unless the officers have probable cause or consent but at the same time allow them to enter homes to execute a Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), investigative detention based on a suspicion of a criminal violation.
Responding to a complaint that a male and two females were yelling at each other in the apartment complex parking lot, the officer knocked on Moore's door and saw two females in the apartment when Moore opened the door.
Decisions refusing to extend the Terry exception to in-home searches include: United States v. Perea-Rey, 680 F.3d 1179 (9th Cir. 2012); United States v. Struckman, 603 F.3d 731 (9th Cir. 2010); United States v. Reeves, 524 F.3d 1161 (10th Cir. 2008); State v. Davis, 666 P.2d 802 (Or. 1983); and State v. Beavers, 859 P.2d 9 (Utah Ct. App. 1993).
According to the court, neither woman seemed in distress or asked for assistance, and Moore told the officer he didn't know anything about a disturbance.
When Moore refused to identify himself to the officer, the officer reached into the apartment, handcuffed Moore and led him to the police cruiser.
He was later charged with violating Fla. Stat. § 843.02, which makes it illegal to obstruct or resist an officer without violence. When the charges were dropped, Moore filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 lawsuit, claiming unlawful arrest and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The district court granted summary judgment for the police, ruling that the seizure was not unjustified.
The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the seizure was unreasonable.
The officer's claim that he had probable cause to arrest Moore necessarily hinges on the conclusion that this probable cause arose from Moore's refusal to identify himself during the course of a lawful Terry stop, the court said.
However, even assuming that the officer had the requisite reasonable, articulable suspicion to support a Terry investigation, the Constitution doesn't allow officers to execute such investigative stops inside a person's home, it said.
“Under the Fourth Amendment, the home is a sacrosanct place that enjoys special protection from government intrusion,” the court said.
“Dorothy may have said it best when she said, ‘There is no place like home,'” it said. “Though we are pretty sure that she was not talking about the Fourth Amendment, she may as well have been.”
Unless the police have both probable cause and either exigent circumstances or consent, they are forbidden to enter a home to execute a warrantless arrest, the court said.
“So we cannot see how law enforcement could enter a home to detain a person on reasonable, articulable suspicion of a criminal violation (resisting an officer without violence)—a much lower standard than probable cause—when neither exigent circumstances nor consent exist,” it said.
That finding didn't help Moore, however, because the court went on to conclude that the law on this point wasn't clearly established at the time he was confronted and arrested.
Qualified immunity protects government officials engaged in discretionary functions unless they violate clearly established federal statutory or constitutional rights, the court said. The right that Moore relied on wasn't clearly established, it said.
“Moore does not point to a particular Supreme Court, valid Eleventh Circuit, or Florida Supreme Court case that he contends clearly established that Terry-like stops may not be conducted in the home,” the court said.
Judges Beverly B. Martin and R. David Proctor, sitting by designation, joined the opinion.
Haynes & Laurent PA, Orlando, Fla., represented Moore. DeBevoise & Poulton PA, Winter Park, Fla., represented the officer.
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